Akka Arrh

Review: Akka Arrh – Feel The Vibe

The story behind Atari shelving Akka Arrh is pretty interesting; the creator, Jeff Minter, created a prototype for Atari in 1982. It was postponed due to players finding the gameplay difficult, and it wasn’t until decades later that Atari decided to revive the title for modern consoles with the help of Minter. Akka Arrh is a reimagined version of a prototype Atari arcade machine from the 1980s.

Initially discarded due to a lack of interest, the re-release trailer asserts that only three cabinets have ever been observed. Four decades later, Atari enlisted veteran designer Jeff Minter (known for titles like Tempest 2000 and Polybius) to revamp one of its games, and he selected Akka Arrh. Today’s game can be distilled into a reinterpretation of the original concept, blending it with Minter’s distinctive psychedelic visuals and incorporating contemporary enhancements. While the game offers enjoyment, its visually cluttered design significantly impacts the overall experience.

Akka Arr-yes!

Akka Arrh is a top-down shooter game that requires players to defend themselves from abstract and colourful enemies with bullets and bombs. Bombs are effective against basic enemies and can create chain explosions, which help the player gain points. Destroying an enemy with a bomb rewards the player with a bullet, which is necessary to eliminate bigger enemies immune to bombs. Akka Arrh’s objective is to drop only one bomb and maintain the explosion chaining for as long as possible to earn the maximum points. The game provides a satisfying experience when a good chain is achieved, as geometric shapes obliterate enemies rapidly, and the chain name at the top of the screen becomes increasingly absurd.

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My time spent with Akka Arrh was a blast – it begins with a solid welcome before the entire game picks up steam and pushes you to stay seated. As you advance through the game, your bullets count far more, and it is essential to be resourceful. You must target enemies that release faster shockwaves, necessitating prompt action. Power-ups will appear frequently and can be quickly snatched by running your crosshair over them. Although it may take some time to comprehend their effects fully, they are vital for survival. In later stages, you must be fully aware of everything happening at once to manage the game effectively and protect yourself from dangerous collisions.

I thought Elden Ring was formidable, and after clearing The Lands Between half a dozen times, I confidently believe that Akka Arrh is a lot more difficult because it is from an era where video games were nearly impossible to complete unless you had the time and patience to see it to the end. I forgot how much the industry’s skill ceiling has shifted and where we were compared to where we are now. Thankfully, Llamasoft has adjusted how Akka Arrh handles your progress and various attempts by noting your high score and then allowing you to revisit a level later on.

The gameplay is simple, given that the prototype is over 40 years old, but it does what it sets out to do well, and frankly, I like how well it translates to modern sensibilities. I thought it was more like Gradius, and miscalculations left me feeling humbled. Instead, things are a bit different. You control a turret in the centre of the level, allowing you to fire bombs at enemies, setting off explosions that create a shockwave. The more enemies you destroy, the more bullets you unlock that can be shot at enemies your bombs may have missed initially. You want the bombs to set chain reactions, which, in turn, provide you with your scoring multiplier with enemies also setting off bombs when you hit them. In short, Akka Arrh is about getting your timing right, but good reflexes will take you the distance.

Bombs reset to zero every time you send one out, and I spend more time unsure of what I was doing wrong than I care to admit, but the satisfaction you get when you figure out the mechanics is well worth the bit of frustration. And as I said, once you get those bullets to keep your chain going, the magic begins, and Akka Arkh makes sense.

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Levels ramp up about halfway and begin to deliver new and exciting mechanics, and Akka Arrh is better for it. Later stages have you moving between planes to defend from oncoming intruders. It becomes a balancing act of figuring out where enemies are coming from, especially as more planes enter the mix. To say this is an easy game to pick up is not valid, and I was ready to give up after a few hours of struggling to understand what was happening. Then, I let the events unfold without focusing on what I knew from other games. Instead, I focused on what Akka Arrh was telling me to do.

Certain flashing lights may indicate specific enemies are coming, or specific wave patterns aren’t just to showcase the multitude of colours. Instead, they deliver hints of what enemies are on the way. You can make sense of what is coming and when to expect it by letting the various systems highlight what you’re about to face, and somehow, it clicks together like when you finally figure out a magic trick.

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A big issue I encountered is also a simple one to fix as the primary control scheme of Akka Arrh is set to one button, and it confounded me for some time as to why this was the default. My biggest recommendation is also changing the control scheme to two buttons; otherwise, you’re shooting bullets and bombs simultaneously, and it ruins any rhythm you might find.

The PlayStation VR2 implementation for Akka Arrh made me remember why I believe in the platform. Last year was a banner year for the peripheral, and it had a lot of solid titles to kick off the launch. It has seen some gems throughout the previous 12 months, and after spending some time with Akka Arrh, it feels like I am at home in the virtual realm and feels like it belongs between Tetris Effect and Fantavision 202X. 

A lot of the particle effects and flashing lights feel more natural when wearing the headset. A lot of the moment-to-moment ongoing are so much fun to interact with, and frankly, it feels like this is a game meant for VR, yet it has some issues with text onscreen being sometimes hard to read.

It’s hard to transcribe the magic Akka Arrh offers in images – it is a game where you’re far better off being able to experience it for yourself rather than me telling you about the insane level I just completed.

Verdict

Akka Arrh is not for everyone to enjoy, yet its basic premise is worth checking out. This is a game from a different period in time, yet it holds its own against today’s modern sensibilities. The more difficult levels are challenging, but only if you don’t understand what previous levels are trying to tell you. Without saying much, Akka Arrh has a lot of subtle messages you need to pay attention to succeed, and it’s pretty stellar.

Recommended

[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]

Reviewed on: PlayStation 5

Review: Akka Arrh – Feel The Vibe
Summary
Without saying much, Akka Arrh has a lot of subtle messages you need to pay attention to succeed, and it's pretty stellar.
Liked
Filled with excellent psychedelic visuals
Nuanced gameplay you need to pay attention to
Didn't Like
Gameplay can be frustratingly tough